Rossiya Segodnya and the crocodile tears on European censorship

Latvia banned the opening of an office on the Russian news outlet in Riga. The flagship of Russian (mis)information remains outside an EU country with more than half a million Russians. According to Moscow it’s only censorship, while Latvians want to get rid of the Kremlin propaganda. They both are right.  

Photo: TV screen frame
Photo: TV screen frame

Associated Press released the news with a short text. The business register of Latvia has rejected the request for registration of the Russian company looking to establish a base in Riga. The reason given by the authorities is that the Statutes of the Russian news agency is contrary to the Constitution of Latvia. "The company has a month to appeal against this decision", they then politely notified the Russians. But there is a strong suspicion that the decision is purely political and that any use will bounce against the anti-Russian policy that Latvia - like the other two Baltic States - is carrying out.

Latvians, this is the truth, are afraid of pervasive (and effective) Kremlin propaganda. And they’re right. Precisely because of that half a million Russians - about a quarter of the population, while the Latvians are just over half - living within their borders.

The Russian Foreign Ministry immediately issued a statement saying that it is an act of discrimination and calling the attention of the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, on the case. The Russians are right.


It is not the first case of its kind. Already last April, Lithuania banned from their country the Russian television RTR Planeta. They didn’t deny the real reason. The TV channel was accused of spreading false news and inciting hatred. In July, in addition, the British authorities frozen the account of the agency on the local bank Barclay's, in the context of individual sanctions against its director, Dmitry Kiselyov. To be clear, Kiselyov is the one who said during a live program on Russia 24 he wants to turn America into a pile of atomic ashes; and, on another occasion, that he had said that gays “should be banned from donating blood or sperm, and if they die in a car crash, their hearts should be burnt or buried in the ground as unsuitable for the continuation of life.”

The propaganda of the Russian media, in short, is not an invention. Last May, the European Parliamentary Research Service, EPRS, issued a document in which analyzes the infowar initiated by Russia and the basis for countermeasures to be taken. The report, entitled "Russia's manipulation of information on Ukraine and the EU's response", analyzes one by one all the tools used by the Kremlin to implement the Russian soft power, recognizing a very high degree of success. In other words, Latvians have many reasosn to fear a base of Rossiya Segodnya in their house.


But is it right to respond with censorship? No. As in the case of Lithuania, the Latvian decision is at odds with the principles of the same pluralism and freedom of expression which aims to defend. And that are threatened by the Russian machine of (mis)information.  "Probably, as a rule, we should not fight Russian propaganda with Russian-type of restrictive means," the historian and political scientist Šarūnas Liekis said. His doubts are still valid.

Who decides what is propaganda? What will be the next media outlet to be censored? Do we really want to give this power to our governments? And then, if these moves are aimed at protecting the integrity of information, what about the half a million Russians living in the country?

The Russian Foreign Ministry has good reasons for speaking of discrimination. The problem is that their complaints resemble crocodile tears and Foreign Minister Lavrov should blame Kiselyov rather than Latvia. The Kremlin presentable face, however (the expression is not mine but by Brian Whitmore) knows how to do his work and to demand that Western partners and international bodies comply with the same rules of democracy that he sees trampled home.


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